A Sermon Without Words

“But what does it matter?
The important thing is that in every way…
Christ is preached.”
Philippians 1:18 (NIV)

Some time ago I visited a church in southern Ontario to preach on a Sunday morning. I had preached in this church from time to time for over 35 years. Hence, I knew most of the people for decades.

One person who is faithful in attending this church has been slowly going downhill with a serious medical issue. I have watched with sadness how he gradually lost his ability to walk. Now he moves about in a wheelchair.

Because I have seen this man several times each year for so long I had a very good idea of how he handled his health issues. His capacity to handle such adversity has spoken loud and clear to all who know him. The special challenges he faces have been accepted with grace and without complaint.

It happened that the sermon I preached that morning was on the topic of walking with God as the great evidence of knowing Jesus. I told the congregation that it was not what you said, but how you lived that really told the story of your life. People who claim to be Christians but lived for today and the toys of this life are not genuine believers.

After the service was over I took a few moments to chat with the man in the wheelchair. I assured him that his way of gently accepting the strange providence of God was a far better sermon that anything I could preach from the pulpit. I wanted him to appreciate that his presence at the church each Sunday was a wonderful demonstration of the grace of God in a believer’s life. I assured him that the way he lived his life was a sermon without words.

This is the meaning of our verse today. Paul had enemies who sought ways to add to his problems in prison. However, the sovereign grace of God had used the evil efforts of Paul’s enemies to make the Gospel more clearly known by the people around Paul.

Paul accepted the opposition to his ministry with gladness because it made Jesus better known. For Paul it did not matter that he was made to endure more suffering. What was important to him was that the message of Jesus was being heard by more people through the attacks on him and his ministry.

Keep in mind that Paul is not pretending the opposition to his work did not matter. Of course the added affliction was painful to him. It is not a matter of Paul ignoring his pain, rather it is his ability to rise above what the cost is to him so that he can be happy Jesus is being made known.

Are you able to rise above your suffering today and look for strength from God to live with the problem you face? Can you ask the same question as Paul? “What does it matter?” So long as Jesus is shown to be glorious, our issues are worth the price. Today make the way you live faithfully for the Lord, in the context of pain—a sermon without words.

False Accusations

“I find no crime in him…
Then he delivered him unto them to be crucified.”
John 19:6, 16.

I recall a certain preacher being brought up before his church and accused of wrongdoing. He wanted to know what it was he had done wrong and his accusers could not or else would not specify what the alleged sins were. They just kept repeating the verdict of guilty. History is full of false accusers and the punishment of the innocent.

Occasionally those near the matter cannot see what is happening to the innocent person as readily as people farther away. In the context of our verse today we see the group who were close to Jesus were the ones who demanded his execution. Then we observe Pilate who was distanced from the situation and saw things clearly.

When push came to shove there were three issues that emerged as reasons for Jesus to be put to death. First He was accused of sedition or threat to the Roman government. Then they charged Jesus with “perverting the people”. Finally they came up with the accusation that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.

The last one about the temple was a capital offense to the Jews because of how sacred the house of God was to them. Pilate would merely laugh such a thing out of court as preposterous.

The matter of “perverting the people” was vague and lacked substance in any specific way. So that did not interest Pilate either.

However, the accusation about sedition was very important to Pilate because if Jesus was leading a military threat against the Roman occupational forces he needed to know. Jesus soon put the issue to rest (John 18:36-37) and Pilate realized that the Man before him was no threat to Rome’s authority.

Pilate proved to have some sense of justice and refused to accept the gossip and innuendo spoken against Jesus. Again and again Pilate said to the accusers that Jesus had not committed any crime worthy of death. His words fell on deaf ears. The people wanted a guilty verdict and nothing would deter them in their efforts.

Pilate did not see much worth in the Man before him so in order to gain peace with the crowd, he punished the One he knew to be innocent, not realizing that through his order many would  be made eternally righteous.

If your good reputation has been stolen from you by others, leave the matter with the One Who was hounded to death, He knows all that pain of yours and infinitely more. Leave your tattered reputation with Him, in His time you shall be vindicated. Jesus understands.

Picking Up The Pieces

“Get Mark and bring him with you,
because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
2 Timothy 4:11 (NIV)

The man referred to as Mark (aka. John Mark) in our verse today had a most interesting journey through life. His home was a house of prayer (Acts 12:12) and he was likely born into a family of some financial means and influence. The great missionary Barnabas was his cousin (Colossians 4:10).

Mark had grown up in Jerusalem and so enjoyed the usual social and religious benefits of a thriving city life.

The apostle Peter knew the home of John Mark well and sought safety there when the Romans were after his life (Acts 12:11-12). Peter fondly referred to Mark as his “son” (1 Peter 5:13).

When Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch from a visit to Jerusalem they took along Mark who was undoubtedly excited to be with two such wonderful men of God. Then came Mark’s crowning moment when he was invited to go along with Barnabas and Paul on the first great missionary journey (Acts 13:5).

Sadly for John Mark, he failed the test on the journey as he fled home to his mother and Jerusalem when the going got tough (Acts 13:13). This defection under duress caused Paul to be wary of John Mark and some time later when Barnabas and Paul decided to retrace their steps of the first missionary journey, Paul refused to have John Mark go with them (Acts 15:38).

It was much more than Mark being related to Barnabas that caused Barnabas to desire a second opportunity for Mark. Barnabas’s whole mission in life, it seems, was to bring people in from the cold, and present them with opportunity to serve the Lord. Twice (Acts 9:26-27; 11:25-26), Barnabas had brought Paul into a place of opportunity for ministry. Now Barnabas desired to do the same for Mark as he had done for Paul.

It seems tragic that Barnabas and Paul split from each other over Mark. It must have been humiliating for Mark to realise he was the occasion for a division between two such great people. We seem to see a hard hearted attitude in Paul over the fallen Mark. Apparently Paul was better suited to putting a person down that lifting them up. We still have such a mindset in the church today. The gentle, forgiving, and generous spirit of Barnabas is readily seen in his determination to stay by Mark when Paul rejects him.

Barnabas left Paul and made a great man of John Mark. We do not have the history of how Barnabas built Mark up into such a towering leader in the church. But Mark not only wrote a Gospel named after him, but there is also the startling fact of Paul calling for John Mark when he comes to die as our verse indicates.

You may think your life is over because you have been a disgrace somehow to the Lord’s people. Remember John Mark and look for a Barnabas, a person who knows more about lifting people up that stepping on them. Get alongside that person and ask for their help in getting you back into a place for service to Jesus. As you “pick up the pieces” of your life you might even find that the Lord will make you into another John Mark. Also, there may be a Paul from your past who will call for you in his time of trouble.

How And When To Forgive

“If your brother or sister sins against you,
rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”
Luke 17:3 (NIV)

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Colossians 3:13 (NIV)

“If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins 
and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9 (NIV)

I recall a saying of my parents that often followed when I broke a house rule. For example, in winter if I came into the house without first taking my snowy boots off, I would hear the words, “Gordon, if I have told you once I have told you a thousand times, take your boots off at the door and don’t track snow through the house.”

It seems to be the case that children need to hear the same house rule many times before they learn what is acceptable and what is not. I have also learned over many years that adults sometimes need to hear the same truth numerous times before the reality actually becomes part of their conscious thoughts.

Several times over many years I have written a devotional on the matter of how and when to forgive. I repeat this teaching here to refresh your thinking on this vital matter of forgiving people who offend us.

It is clear from our verses today that we are to follow the example of our Father in heaven regarding the matter of how and when to forgive people who offend us. Our sins are forgiven by the Lord after we confess them not before we confess them.

Before we confess our sin, the Holy Spirit convinces us of our sin and leads us to repent (John 16:8). In 1 John 1:9 we learn the amazing truth concerning the character of true forgiveness. It is permanent and total. Once the Lord forgives our sins He no longer “remembers” them. (Isaiah 43:25 (NIV)

So, when do we forgive someone who offends us? The answer is after they repent and not before. This is the way of the Lord. What do we do after a person sins against us? We do what the Lord does, we rebuke the offender. Again, this is how the Lord forgives. He first rebukes and then waits for the offender to repent. Once the offender repents the sin is forgiven and forgotten.

Are you willing and ready to forgive the offending person when they repent? Will you put the matter behind you as the Lord puts your sins behind Him when you confess them? Will you willingly embrace and renew fellowship with the forgiven person? These are tough questions but important ones to keep in mind as we all seek to imitate our Father in heaven. May you have grace today as you ponder the issue of how and when to forgive according to the Lord’s method.

In But Not For All Things

“I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.”
Psalm 69:30 (NIV)

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100:4-5 (NIV)

“Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.”
Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

There are many interesting and sometimes foolish interpretations of biblical truth. Many years ago I read a book on the place of thanksgiving in the believer’s life. The author wrote that Christians should give thanks for everything. He wrote that if your unmarried daughter came home and announced she was pregnant you should give thanks for their daughter’s sin.

Scripture tells us to give thanks in but not for every issue we face. Many blessings come to the child of God and thanks need to be given daily for the gracious acts of the Lord on our behalf. Every time we approach the Lord in prayer, we need to express thanks for blessings received. Being thankful for the Lord’s presence, answers to prayer, and promises He gives of blessings to seek, creates a wonderful attitude that helps us believe our petitions will be heard.

So, when you spend time in prayer approach the Lord with the praise of thanksgiving. Rehearse your many blessings and name several to obey Scripture about the place of being thankful when approaching our great God and Saviour.

After such a beginning to prayer you will find yourself eager to make your requests known in prayer. Proving to yourself that the Good Shepherd hears and answers prayer by naming answers you will feel your faith strengthened. As your faith grows you will be more confident even bold in your petitions.

During a dreadful drought many years ago in one part of the USA churches called for a special prayer meeting to pray for rain. As the believers gathered someone noticed a young girl carrying something no one else thought to bring. What was it the young girl brought with her? An umbrella. Be thankful in but not for all things you face in life. Yes, bring thankful hearts to the place of prayer and find your anxiety draining away and a spirit of boldness taking its place.

John Newton wrote many hymns and a verse from one seems suitable here.

“Thou art coming to a King,
large petitions with thee bring,
for His grace and power are such
none can ever ask too much.”